PARIS (CBSNewYork/CBS News/AP) — French centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen are advancing to the presidential runoff, after major opponents conceded defeat.
For the first time in modern French history, no mainstream party candidate is advancing, upending the country’s political system.
Voters will choose May 7 between Macron, a former investment banker and ex-economy minister, and Le Pen, who has tried to scrub her National Front party of its history of racism and anti-Semitism.
Macron supporters went wild at the announcement of polling agency projections, cheering, singing “La Marseillaise” anthem, waving French tricolor and European flags and shouting “Macron, president!”.
Le Pen supporters were equally enthusiastic.
“We will win!” Le Pen supporters chanted in her election day headquarters in Henin-Beaumont. They burst into a rendition of the French national anthem, and waved French flags and blue flags with “Marine President” inscribed on them
Socialist party candidate Benoît Hamon conceded defeat late Sunday. Also conceding were contender Jean-Luc Mélenchon and conservative François Fillon, a former prime minister who was embroiled in a scandal over alleged fake jobs.
The first-round poll was seen as a litmus test for the spread of populism around the world.
CBS News foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reported ahead of the vote that Le Pen is a real contender. Like Donald Trump, she talks about patriotism, cracking down on immigration and bringing back blue-collar jobs. But there’s a big difference: Le Pen’s main base is among the young.
Sylvain Hechon is 25 years old — an activist in the town of Maubeuge, a National Front stronghold. CBS News visited Hechon the day before the Paris shooting, when he, like millions of young French people, were preoccupied with France’s economic woes. He showed us one of Le Pen’s videos aimed squarely at millennials who face an unemployment rate stuck at nearly 25 percent.
“Why are young people attracted to the National Front?” CBS News asked him.
“Young people believe that immigrants are stealing jobs our jobs,” he said. “Marine Le Pen will limit immigration even if she has to use the military.”
More than 50,000 police officers and gendarmes were deployed to the 66,000 polling stations for Sunday’s election, which comes after Thursday’s deadly attack on the Champs-Élysées in which a police officer and a gunman were slain.
President Donald Trump predicted that the attack this week would be a major factor in the election.
The presidential poll was the first to be held during a state of emergency, put in place since the Paris attacks of November 2015.
Voters chose between 11 candidates in the most unpredictable contest in decades.
France’s 10 percent unemployment, its lackluster economy and security were issues that top concerns for the 47 million eligible voters.
The day was not without its tension.
Several Femen activists were arrested after staging a topless protest against Le Pen meters from the polling station where the far-right leader was heading to vote. Police intervened and stopped the commotion minutes before Le Pen arrived to cast her ballot in the northern town of Hénin-Beaumont. No one was hurt.
Macron, meanwhile, was the image of serenity as he posed for selfies with voters after casting his ballot in the coastal town of Le Touquet in northern France alongside his wife, Brigitte Macron.
Unpopular incumbent President François Hollande made the unusual move last year of pledging to not stand for re-election.
Political campaigning was banned from midnight Friday hours ahead of polls opening in France’s far-flung overseas territories such as Guadeloupe, French Polynesia and French Guiana, which all voted a day early Saturday.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)